Reputations Ten Years After

by Captain B. H. Liddell Hart. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1928. (An Atlantic Monthly Press Publication.) 8vo, xiv+316 pp. Maps. Illus. $3.00.
THERE was a time when military leaders sought the bubble reputation at the cannon’s mouth. Nowadays they seek it, quite as eagerly, In comfortable headquarters, well behind even the heaviest artillery. But reputation still remains a bubble; and to several such bubbles Captain B. H. Liddell Hart in his new book, Reputations Ten Years After, delivers fatal but (in the light of our present knowledge) necessary pinpricks.
kitchener, French, and Hindenburg, whom he does not pay even the scant courtesy of inclusion among the ten generals selected for criticism, Captain Hart apparently regards as self-deflated; unless it be respect for Kitchener’s and French’s lifetime of service to the Empire which silences the critic in one case and respect for Hindenburg’s present official position in the other. The ten whom he does select for study are Joffre, von Falkenhayn. Gullieni, Haig, Foch, Ludendorff, Pétain, Allenby, Liggett, and Pershing; and several of them might well pray for the decency of obscurity ere this trenchant critic has done with them.
It will not do, however, to regard Reputations Ten Years After as merely an exercise in the destruction of popular illusions. The book is far more than that; or, rather, it is simply what its title implies: a study of military reputations in the light of the knowledge we possess to-day — ten years, or thereabouts, since they were won. If some of the reputations suffer, the fault is not with the author but with the facts; and for those facts, presumably, the subjects were themselves responsible ten — years ago. Thus Joffre, the erstwhile ‘hero of the Marne,’ is described as a somewhat jealous, very stupid, but superbly calm old gentleman, who was ‘not a general but a national nerve sedative’; von Falkenhayn, as ‘the ablest and most scientific general, “penny wise, pound foolish,”who ever ruined his country’; Ludendorff, at whose mere name armies quailed a few short years ago, as ‘the Robot Napoleon’; and even Foch, though he is recognized as ‘the symbol of the victorious will,’becomes also ‘a natural disorganizer’ in whom ‘Napoleonic qualities were lacking.’
The two American commanders, Liggett and Pershing, Captain Hart believes were chiefly handicapped by the long ‘periods of minor routine in a subordinate capacity’ inevitalde in our small Regular Army, which rarely gets a chance to fight. He even suggests that perhaps Pershing’s ‘unmilitary experience had fitted him for the command in France as much as his military experience had unfitted him,’ and reminds his readers that the roll of the great captains ‘includes no man who spent long years in garrison duly.’ Liggett saved himself by hard professional study. Pershing by the breadth and variey of his training.
Field Marshal Haig is accused of obstinacy and lack of vision and his failures are frankly admitted; but Captain Hart also points out that ‘as an executive commander here has hardly been a finer defensive general,’ and that ‘in his qualities and defects he was the very embodiment of the national character and the army tradition.’ Alleby ‘wrote a glorious last chapler to the old testament of warfare.’ Pétain, by the new vigor which he breathed into the French Army during the mutinies of 1917, ‘made victory possible’:Gallieni had earlier won the same claim to the gratitude of his country and her allies.
Captain Hart writes at a peculiarly favorable moment in history. War-time enthusiasms and illusions are pretty well gone. Even the animosities of those days, it is not too much to hope, are gradually subsiding. Yet the actors in the great struggle still remain, and their first-hand record, so soon to vanish, is still his to use; while documentary evidence, which posterity will doubtless possess in even greater volume, is already so abundant as to tax the historian’s capacity. Against the vivid personal accounts of personal witnesses, Captain Hart has balanced the cold impersonality of the record. From these two sources, plus his own lifetime spent in military study, he has created a book which is well-nigh unique in the all too copious literature of the Great War. One can hardly hope to say the last word now. Ten years after is still too soon. But for honesty, sympathy, charm, and clarity his volume of Reputations must long remain preeminent.